Getting into a car accident can be a life-changing situation, whether permanently or temporarily. Anxiety is among these potential life-changing effects, although many car accident victims don’t realize the impact and risks of anxiety on their emotional and mental health.
Even accidents that are non-fatal or not life-threatening can lead to anxiety. Phobias about being in cars and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are some examples, so the possible emotional effects of car accidents should never be understated.
In the same way you would visit Neuro Injury Care Institute after a car crash to assess and treat physical injuries, you can also get treated for emotional traumas, like anxiety.
Anxiety Can Be Long-Term Without Treatment
Diagnosing and treating your anxiety after a car accident is important. Without treatment, your anxiety can be a long-standing issue that simply doesn’t go away. In fact, a study in the early 2000s states that a year after non-fatal accidents, a third of people had persistent anxiety, PTSD, phobias, or depression. This shows that you don’t need to be in a serious accident to develop emotional distress and anxiety from it.
It is important to take this information to heart so that you are aware that anxiety can result from even non-serious accidents. Anxiety after a traumatic event, whatever the cause, is an issue that must be addressed.
The only way to get on the road to recovery is by recognizing that you are suffering from anxiety. From there, you can consult a medical professional and start anxiety disorder treatment. Some may think that you just need to give it time for anxiety to dissipate, but in reality, anxiety calls for more purposeful treatment.
Why Anxiety Happens After Car Accidents
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, people develop anxiety after car crashes due to their body’s response. In a car accident, you face a perceived threat. This causes your brain’s amygdala to send out signals. The signals then lead to changes in your automatic nervous system, such as increased blood flow to the feet and hands, dilated pupils, and changes in your blood pressure and heart rate.
Normally, those responses are a healthy part of the fight, flight, or freeze reactions. Sometimes, however, the body’s response becomes overactive. Following a car accident, your brain might begin associating everyday things with a threat because of a link to the accident. For example, anxiety triggers can be as simple as riding in the driver’s seat or driving by the accident site.
Types of Anxieties After Car Accidents
There are various types of anxieties you can experience following a car accident. Familiarizing yourself with these and other related conditions makes it easier to recognize the signs that you need professional help.
Acute Stress Disorder (ASD)
Acute stress disorder refers to situations when your anxiety lasts for no longer than a month following the accident. As many as a third of those who experience trauma have symptoms of ASD. Some of those symptoms include:
- Feeling emotionally detached or numb
- Avoiding things reminiscent of the trauma
- Flashbacks, hallucinations, or nightmares of the trauma
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
This happens when your anxiety spreads. People with GAD will start to notice symptoms like:
- Sleep disturbances
At this point, your anxiety no longer focuses on the car accident. The accident may have been the original trigger, but you will now find yourself anxious about unrelated issues as well.
With this type of anxiety, people develop irrational fears following the accident. For example, vehophobia, the fear of driving, and the fear of getting into an accident are both common. Others may even develop agoraphobia, which is the fear of leaving their homes.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
PTSD is closely related to anxiety and is a surprisingly common result of car accidents. Note, however, that PTSD is not a type of anxiety disorder. It is a disorder related to stressors and trauma. You may be diagnosed with PTSD if you have the symptoms already mentioned for ASD, but they last for more than a month.
Potential Mental Health Symptoms After a Car Accident
Whether you are dealing with anxiety or something related, like PTSD, the following are some emotional effects that you may experience after a car accident:
- Replaying/reliving the experience
Other potential symptoms of depression, anxiety, or PTSD after a car accident can include:
- Recurring nightmares about the accident
- The feeling of choking
- Dry mouth
- Shaking or trembling
- Pounding heart
- Chest pain
- Abdominal distress
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Tense muscles
- Tingling or numbness in extremities
- Fear of death
- Fear of losing control
- Feelings of danger, doom, or panic
- Uneasiness, fear, or panic
- Difficulty concentrating
- Depersonalization (feeling detached from yourself)
- Derealization (feeling like things aren’t real)
- Using substances to deal with your unwanted thoughts
Your doctor can help you determine if the symptoms are due to anxiety or something else. Remember that many of the above symptoms may indicate physical injuries, in addition to mental issues.
When to Seek Help for Anxiety After a Car Accident
It is natural to feel a little anxious immediately following a car accident, but there is a point when you realize that a visit to Neuro Injury Care Institute is necessary. Generally speaking, if a few months have passed and your anxiety hasn’t improved, you should get help from a mental health professional.
Look for specific signs of anxiety, such as:
- Avoidance of driving in certain situations
- Feeling anxious about or while driving
- Persistently dreaming about the accident
- Persistently thinking about the accident
It is very common to have these thoughts and symptoms a week or two following the accident. But they should fade over time. If they haven’t faded by the next few months, it is time to consider treatment in one of our clinics in New York City, specifically Manhattan, Staten Island, Queens, the Bronx, or Brooklyn.
Things You Can Do Yourself to Recover From Anxiety
Getting over anxiety and mental trauma after car accidents involves taking ownership of your treatment. The following are some of the things you may try on your own. When in doubt, always ask your doctor for their recommendations on these suggestions.
Relaxation and Breathing Exercises
Breathing exercises are a common self-management technique for anxiety. It can be helpful when combined with other anxiety disorder treatments.
Focus on Self-Care
If you are dealing with anxiety after car accidents, focus on self-care. This includes taking care of your basic needs. In other words, make sure you get enough sleep and exercise, eat balanced meals, and socialize. Take time for hobbies or activities that you enjoy, whether that is hiking, crafting, gaming, or other recreational activities.
Physical activity can be especially helpful as part of self-care, and it gives you a good diversion from your anxiety. Just be sure to consult with your doctor before engaging in new physical activities. It is especially important to do this after a car accident, as you don’t want to worsen existing injuries.
Journaling or simply writing about the accident and how you feel can also be a form of self-care. If you decide to do this, consider bringing your journal to your next therapy appointment.
Develop and Use a Support Network
Get help from family and friends as you recover from your emotional trauma. Although you don’t want your friends to take on the role of a therapist, you can still count on them to listen to your candid, unfiltered thoughts. They can also be a good distraction and a source for regaining your confidence. Your support network will celebrate your successes and stick with you in your losses.
In addition to family and friends, you can also consider other support groups. Your therapist or doctor may be able to suggest a group that suits your situation and needs.
Get Back Behind the Wheel Slowly and with Support
After a car accident, you may observe that your anxiety symptoms appear as soon as you get behind the wheel. The best way to minimize your anxiety as you get back to driving is to do it slowly, surely, and with support.
Ask a trusted family member or friend to go with you the first time you drive again. Take those first few drives slowly. Keep the drive short by simply going to a nearby friend’s house or to your local grocery store. Don’t plan a cross-country road trip in the hopes that pushing yourself will make you overcome your anxiety. It is better to go slow and steady than to push yourself too hard. The latter could even worsen your anxiety.
As you get comfortable behind the wheel again, you don’t even need to avoid the site of the crash. Though it can be easier to do so, you must remember that you will need to overcome it at some point. Putting it off will only cause your anxiety to build. Consider having someone you trust riding with you the first time you drive by the site just so you have the support and reassurance you need.
Take a Defensive Driving Course
Once you feel capable of getting behind the wheel without a companion, consider taking a defensive driving course. This can relieve your anxiety further by giving you more confidence in your ability to evade future accidents. This will also equip you on how to minimize impact in the event of another accident. On top of that, the course will force you to get behind the wheel more often, which can all the more build your confidence in driving.
Anxiety Treatment from Your Doctor
While taking the above steps yourself will be somewhat helpful, you will see the best results if you combine those methods with professional treatment. If you have anxiety following a car accident, remember that you do not need to go through it alone and neither should you try to.
Your doctor may prescribe an anti-anxiety medication to help reduce your symptoms. Antidepressants are commonly used to treat anxiety. These include Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), such as fluoxetine (Prozac), escitalopram (Lexapro), venlafaxine (Effexor), and duloxetine (Cymbalta). Bupropion is another type of antidepressant commonly used for treating anxiety. Other medications include monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) and tricyclics, but they are less common due to side effects.
For persistent anxiety or feelings of panic, your doctor may prescribe you benzodiazepines. These lower anxiety and work quickly, but there is a high risk of dependency. Because of this, it isn’t advisable to be on them for long. Buspirone is another anti-anxiety drug to be considered.
You may also get a prescription for sleep medication if your anxiety causes insomnia. If your anxiety causes your blood pressure to elevate, your doctor may prescribe beta-blockers.
Talking to a counselor is also a very important part of getting over anxiety after a car accident. A therapist or counselor will help you talk through the experience and your mental injuries.
As hard as it may seem, be honest with your therapist. They can only help you if you are honest about what you are going through.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
During this type of anxiety disorder treatment, you take your panic-causing, negative thoughts and turn them into positive thoughts. You will learn strategies to manage your anxiety as well.
The Neuro Injury Care Institute Difference
At the Neuro Injury Care Institute, you take advantage of our team’s extensive experience with mental health issues. Our neurologist has experience treating various types of conditions, including those resulting from car accidents.
Our center also provides treatment for physical injuries and even other conditions, which include anxiety. This addresses the need to find multiple doctors or clinics, making schedules and paperwork easier for you.
We gladly serve patients throughout the Bronx, Long Island, Staten Island, and Queens. We also make our treatment accessible by offering a free neurological evaluation through telehealth. This can make your initial consultation less stressful, as you can do it from the comfort of your home. Through this evaluation, you learn more about your anxiety and what to expect from the treatment.
The Bottom Line
Anxiety following a car accident happens to more people than you realize. A combination of therapy, medications, and personal efforts can help you recover. Neuro Injury Care Institute is here to get you on the road to recovery. Our doctors accept no-fault insurance, PIP (personal injury protection), workers’ compensation, and other plans. Call or book an appointment today!